Indiana Basketball: 5 Teams That Could Derail the Hoosiers' Final Four Hopes
Despite a loss to Illinois, the Associated Press gave the Indiana Hoosiers a mulligan and allowed them to keep their No. 1 national ranking.
One of the few teams with a legitimate case for a number-one seed in next month's NCAA tournament, IU is likewise still considered a favorite to reach the Final Four in Atlanta.
However, the chaotic nature of this season should teach any basketball fan to expect the unexpected. There are any number of teams capable of getting hot and going on a deep tournament run.
These are five teams that match up well with Indiana, and could make that deep run right over the top of the talented Hoosiers.
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It's certainly true that Indiana has one of college basketball's best big men in Cody Zeller.
The problem arises when we look past Zeller and examine what else the Hoosiers have in the post. Unless Hanner Mosquera-Perea grows up really fast, there isn't much.
A team with a lot of bulk and depth in the post can let one man lean on Zeller all night and still have another in the post ready to shut down his drives to the basket. Miami is such a team.
Kenny Kadji, Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson all stand 6'10" or taller and weigh upwards of 240 pounds, making each of them a tough physical match for Zeller. Kadji's perimeter skills (career 39 percent three-point shooter) make him an interesting matchup against Christian Watford or Will Sheehey, as well.
The Hurricanes also pack a dangerous backcourt trio. Shane Larkin, Trey McKinney-Jones and Durand Scott average a combined 36 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and five steals per game.
Scott and McKinney-Jones both stand 6'5", which would force IU coach Tom Crean to make a difficult decision regarding his defense. Jordan Hulls would struggle to guard either one.
The Hoosiers have only failed to average 1.1 points per possession in five games this season. Miami has only allowed three opponents to reach that mark. Irresistible force, meet immovable object.
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Like Miami, Gonzaga has several tall drinks of water in its lineup. Kelly Olynyk and 300-pound Polish mountain Przemek Karnowski both measure seven feet, and they're supplemented by 6'9", 255-pound Sam Dower.
Olynyk vs. Zeller would be a tremendous matchup, as the two pack very similar stat lines. Zeller would have one advantage in that Olynyk can be prone to fouls. Most of the Zags' major-conference opponents, such as Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Butler, have been able to draw four or five fouls from Olynyk.
Gonzaga's guards would not be as challenging physically as Miami's backcourt, but Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. are still very capable of making an opponent pay if they get open looks at the basket.
The supreme X-factor would be Zags forward Elias Harris, who shot 38 percent in GU's five games against Big 12 opponents and 53 percent in all other games. Could he shrug off a Hoosier defense likely to send Victor Oladipo to stay in his face?
As of this writing, Gonzaga has the nation's third-most efficient offense, one spot behind IU. Both are also in the top 45 defensively. The Zags would need to play their best game, but after years of falling short in March, they'll enter this season's tournament with something to prove.
Colorado State Rams
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It's not hyperbole to say that Colorado State may be the best rebounding team in the nation. The Rams rank third nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and first in defensive percentage.
Three CSU players rip more than 18 percent of their available defensive rebounds, and each of them average more than 22 minutes per game. By contrast, IU's third-best defensive rebounder is the seldom-used freshman Hanner Mosquera-Perea at 15 percent.
For a team that excels on the offensive glass the way the Hoosiers do, CSU would pose a threat, even though the Rams have only one regular who stands taller than 6'6".
CSU generates a lot of rebounds with a disciplined defense that doesn't gamble for big plays. Opponents have a puny .439 effective field goal percentage against the Rams, a rate mere fractions of a point behind that of the Hoosiers.
CSU would need to avoid foul trouble against IU. The Rams commit 20 fouls a game, an issue that cost them a contest against New Mexico last month. The Lobos shot a mere 36.5 percent from the floor, but sank 21-of-26 from the line. Indiana's 25th-ranked foul shooting makes it capable of similar results.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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Notre Dame would present another titanic pivot matchup for Cody Zeller, that being All-Big East banger Jack Cooley. The real story, though, may not be in the paint, but rather in the backcourt.
The Irish boast perhaps the best two-point-guard-attack in America, featuring juniors Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant. Atkins and Grant rank fourth and fifth, respectively, on the Big East assist chart.
The two are also capable scorers, a label that Grant verified when he dropped in 12 points in 45 seconds to salvage Saturday's game against Louisville and sent the two teams on a five-overtime odyssey late into the night.
Coach Mike Brey's "Burn" offense slows the game to a snail's pace, similar to that of prior Hoosier opponents Wisconsin and Northwestern. Both of those teams either beat or threw a scare into IU, and both lack the size and scoring talent that the Irish bring to the court.
Seven ND players average 7.5 points or more, and the Irish rank 20th nationally in effective FG percentage. There may not be many shots, but Notre Dame can make them count.
Virginia Commonwealth Rams
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Last season, IU ended VCU's tournament run, so there's the obvious revenge factor. But there's another enormous reason that Joe IU Fan does not want to see the Hoosiers face this herd of Rams in this season's tournament.
Indiana commits a lot more than its fans would like, just over 13 per game. If the Hoosiers could escape a meeting with VCU at only 13 turnovers, that's a good day, because the Rams come up with takeaways on a whopping 29 percent of opponents' possessions. That figure leads the nation, as one might expect.
Guards Darius Theus and Briante Weber combine for 5.7 steals per game by themselves, and that's less than half of the team's average. IU freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell has been steady with the ball so far, but he hasn't seen a sea of prying hands like this.
The Rams have failed to force 15 turnovers only five times this season. Not coincidentally, they have five losses on the year.
To be fair, if the VCU offense isn't connecting from long range, it will struggle. A full 38 percent of the Rams' shots go up from beyond the arc. IU contests the three well, so the Hoosiers could keep the game close or build a lead by forcing bricks.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron, home of the exclusive Back Iron Index and Bracketometry, telling us which teams SHOULD be in the NCAA tournament come March.